Thursday, June 21, 2018

Guest Post: The Beauty of Units by Michelle Sager

I worked with Michelle's family for many years and always loved seeing her unit studies. When she told me about her current project, I asked her to share about it on Ohio Homeschool Assessments.  Please Welcome Michelle! 

The Beauty of Units

Schools sometimes call them “thematic units”.  Basically, a Unit Study is a flexible study of one topic that encompasses some, most, or all of the scholastic subjects (language arts, math, science, social studies, art, physical education).  Some Units are hands-on while some are strictly virtual; some are literature based while some are based in math, science or history.

We were lucky enough to discover Unit Studies fairly early in the research phase of our journey to homeschooling.  We didn’t understand their importance right away (another story for another time), but our children enjoyed learning with them so much, that we quickly grew to love them!  So much so, in fact, that we began turning everything into a Unit Study – chemistry, biology, anatomy, fiction and non-fiction books, the Olympics, movies, Girl Scouts, and family trips (even a trip to Las Vegas, Nevada!).  We became an eclectic homeschooling family. I think the term eclectic fits our family better than relaxed, since every day is different, and there are many days where the learning is quite intense and doesn’t seem relaxed at all.

Why We Love Unit Studies

My family’s love-affair with Unit Studies began in October of 2008 with a free sample from  We wanted to inject a little bit of fun into our routine and found a Unit on Autumn and fall leaves that included literature, writing, math, earth science, chemistry, spelling, geography, vocabulary, art, hiking, computer knowledge, and probably a million other things I can’t remember!

  • We went to our local park to collect different leaves, then my children used the computer and some library books to identify the trees by the leaf shape and created a scrapbook of the identified leaves.
  • We used a map to find the peak color-change times in our country and in the process learned the location of all 50 states.
  • We went back to the same park to estimate and count the number of leaves per branch. That information was then used to guess which types of trees carried the most leaves, and which environment was more leaf-producing; a closely packed woods or a carefully landscaped park. 
  • There was an entire day spent studying photosynthesis, leaching the color out of the leaves with rubbing alcohol and coffee filters, learning which leaves contained which chemicals.
  • We looked at tree rings, seeds, bark, animals that rely on trees for food and shelter, and anything else they wanted to study.
  • We made some stained-glass leaves with wax paper, crayon shavings and an iron, read and wrote poetry about autumn, and had a lot of fun!
  • The children found a locally produced video at the library about autumn in the Smoky Mountains.  At the time, the Smoky Mountains were in our backyard, so we took multiple hiking trips into the park, and identified trees while we hiked.
  • We even took pictures of it all and created a family website to share our “schoolwork” with out-of-town family. It was a fantastic week!

We love how adaptable Unit Studies are; how creative our children could be; and most importantly, how much they enjoy learning when we used them!

Add and Subtract

There were some parts of the Unit that our children would find boring – so we skipped those.  There were some additional things we could do – so we added those. Unit Studies can be as simple or as complex as you want or need.  (As simple or as complex as your children want or need.)
Multi-level Unit Studies allow children of different ages to learn the same topics at the same time. They are adaptable to your children and your location.  We were blessed to live in the foothills of the Smoky Mountains during peak color-change time and took full advantage of it. We even managed to “sneak in” some Tennessee state history during one of our trips to the woods.

Where Are the Units?

There are many quality Unit Studies out there for a nominal fee or even free.  We found many Units that we changed rewrote, added to, subtracted from; made into whatever our children needed.  We also used some Units ‘as-is’. There are a LOT of resources out there.
Publishers’ websites usually have Teacher Guides available as a free download and can help you turn a novel into a Unit Study.  Lapbook templates and notebook pages can help you create a Unit Study on just about any topic.

What Makes a Good Unit?

A good Unit is engaging and helps your children want to learn.  The topic is not the most important part – if your children are learning and they want to do more learning, then it was a success!
This is far from a complete list, but we have used, adapted or created Unit Studies based on:
  • Literature -  The Long Winter, Charlie & the Chocolate Factory, The Hobbit, Romeo & Juliet, The Indian in the Cupboard, Anthem, Atlas Shrugged, The Hunger Games Trilogy, 1984, Fahrenheit 451…
  • Seasons -  Autumn, Winter
  • The Winter Olympics 
  • Animals
  • Government & Elections
  • 50 States
  • Girl Scout Badges
  • Our own community when the Grandparents came to visit
  • Science -  Anatomy, Chemistry
  • Holidays -  Halloween, Christmas, Thanksgiving
  • National Whatever Day -  The National Holiday-of-the-Day or Person-of-the-Day
  • Trips -  Indianapolis & St. Louis, Colonial Williamsburg (w/ Jamestown & Yorktown), Hilton Head Island (w/ Savannah), Las Vegas
  • Join our Eclectic Family

Now that we have almost completed our homeschooling journey, I am working to make our original Unit Studies available to others, complete with ideas for adapting the Units.
Begin with a free course in How to Create a Unit Study (with a Sample) – the sample is a study on Bats.  This course shows you how to create a Unit Study with any topic:
The first Unit I have completed is a trip to Hilton Head Island and Savannah.  This one is perfect for turning a family vacation into a learning experience:
I am working on the rest of the Units and other courses as fast as I can!  
Full Disclosure
Becky’s freestyle assessments are PERFECT for eclectic homeschoolers like us!  My family has used her services since the 2010-11 school year when we moved back to Ohio.  It was a question she asked me a few years ago that prompted me to offer our original curriculum and Unit Studies to others.  So, I must say THANK YOU Becky for encouraging me over the years!
An eclectic home educator for 10 years, Michelle believes engaging your children in the process of planning, developing, and evaluating their own experiences will cultivate a lifelong love of learning. 
Eclectic learning lets you incorporate life into learning instead of dividing life from “school”.  This means all learning, such as family trips, chores, videos, music lessons, family game night, and the dinnertime discussion about the museum you visited last year all count as “school”.  You can help your children see how things fit together.  Since life doesn’t happen in a vacuum, it isn’t divided into subjects and it only makes sense to learn-as-a-whole.
Operations Manager and Editor for SpearPoint Solutions, Michelle is also a contributing author to the book, Living a Wealthy Life: Stories of Gaining an Abundance in All Five Forms of Wealth.

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